Thomas Paine was the American Revolution's preeminent pamphleteer. Born in England in 1737, Paine was largely self-educated
and had had two failed marriages and one failed career as a tax collector before a chance meeting with Benjamin Franklin in
London. Franklin found Paine impressive and urged him to emigrate to America, which he did in 1774. Paine's letter of
introduction from Franklin secured him a job at The Pennsylvania Journal, where he soon became an editor. His new position
in a fledgling country was the perfect setting for his intellect. On January 10, 1776, he published his 50-page polemic,
Common Sense, which almost overnight turned the country towards revolution.
Paine wrote Common Sense for the common man -- in direct, clear language. "It was read by cobblers in their shops,
bakers by their ovens, teachers in their schools, and by officers in the army to their standing ranks." 
He laid out argument after argument championing a complete break with England: "Europe is too thickly planted with
kingdoms to be long at peace, and whenever a war breaks out between England and any foreign power, the trade of America goes
to ruin, because of her connection with Britain."
And again: "Men of passive tempers look somewhat lightly over the offenses of Britain, and, still hoping for the best,
are apt to call out, 'Come, we shall be friends again for all this.'" Did you lose your house to fire, your property
to theft, or does your family lack a bed to sleep on or food to nourish them because of British transgressions, Paine asks.
Did they kill a parent or child and leave you a "ruined and wretched survivor?" If they did and you can still shake
hands with "the murderers, then whatever may be your rank or title in life, you have the heart of a coward, and the spirit
of a sycophant." 
For many colonists his pamphlet was the kick in the pants they needed to demand independence. Common Sense sold 500,000
copies, roughly equal to 75 million copies today, and raised Paine from obscurity to international fame. 
Not everyone rallied to his call to arms. A rich loyalist from the colony of Maryland, James Chalmers, wrote a rebuttal
to Paine's pamphlet called Plain Truth. Chalmers even had the honor of having his essay appear in Philadelphia's most
popular bookstore, Robert Bell's shop, which had carried the first edition of Common Sense. Plain Truth came out about
two months after Paine's work.
"Unfortunately for Chalmers, he had done precisely the wrong thing," historian Chris New tells us.  While Paine's prose was simple enough for semiliterates to digest, Chalmers adopted a high literary style full of
historical references that only the well-educated could comprehend. Most loyalists were learned men. It was the
"great unwashed," the farmers and blacksmiths, who needed to hear his arguments.
Chalmers called Paine a "political quack" for criticizing the English constitution and assailed Paine's love of democracy,
which in the 18th century was held in low regard. Democracies have always been the playgrounds of demagogues, Chalmers
correctly pointed out. John Adams fully agreed. Though he called his era "The Age of Paine," later in life he
described Common Sense as "a poor ignorant, malicious, short-sighted, crapulous mass." 
One wonders about the motivation behind this assessment, inasmuch as Adams admitted in a letter to his wife Abigail that
Common Sense "contained a tolerable summary of the arguments which [he] had been repeating again and again in Congress for
nine months."  Also, Common Sense was published anonymously at first, and many colonists thought Adams had written
it. Having an unknown writer take center stage in the call for independence, especially one recently arrived from England,
could have been embarrassing for Adams.
While Chalmers' Plain Truth sold under the noses of the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, in other areas of the country
the rebels undermined their cause by having it seized. "If such doings are the first fruits of American liberty," Chalmers
wailed, "grant me Heaven!" 
Still, Plain Truth was widely read and might have won more converts had it not been for some unfortunate timing.
Shortly after it was released, the Americans chased the British from Boston with artillery swiped from Fort Ticonderoga.
Was winning a war with England impossible, as Chalmers had claimed? The rebels no longer thought so.
During the war Paine fought briefly in the army under General Nathanael Greene, from August, 1776, till January, 1777.
The patriot cause fared poorly during this period, and morale suffered. In a letter to George Mason, General Washington
wrote, "the history of this war is a history of false hopes . . . our efforts are in vain."  Desertion and discouragement plagued the troops.
But Paine had written a new pamphlet, The American Crisis, which by December, 1776 was being read throughout Philadelphia.
"Instantly it was seized upon. Everyone quoted it, for its words seemed to spring from the very soul of Washington's
army and of the leader himself:
"These are the times that try men's souls . . . Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered. Yet we have this consolation
with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph." 
When soldiers wondered whether enlisting for the Cause was too high a price, they found an answer in Paine: "What we obtain
too cheap, we esteem too lightly: It is dearness only that gives everything its value."
When the fighting and marching seemed endless, Paine's prose sustained them: "Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon
its goods; and it would be strange indeed, if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated."
Paine wrote 13 Crisis papers during the war. In his second installment, Paine became the first person ever to write
the phrase, "The United States of America."  He didn¹t limit himself to inspirational authorship, however. He once went to France and brought back a shipload
of ammunition, clothes, and money. When the war ended he opened his final Crisis pamphlet with the words, "The times
that tried men's souls are over - and the greatest and completest revolution the world ever knew, gloriously and happily accomplished."
Some historians regard Paine as the country's first abolitionist. His inaugural article for The Pennsylvania Journal,
published on March 8, 1775, denounced slavery and called for its end. The essay led to the formation of the first American
anti-slavery society a month later in Philadelphia. Paine was also the drafter and signer of the March, 1780 Act of
Pennsylvania, which made Pennsylvania the first state to abolish slavery. 
Paine's life was not easy, especially after publishing The Age of Reason, a 1790s book critical of the Bible. He
opposed tyranny in all forms, including the church, and never blinked in doing so. America was fortunate to have someone
of such uncommon courage, dedication and genius fighting for our independence.
1. George F. Scheer and Hugh F. Rankin, Rebels & Redcoats: The American Revolution Through the Eyes of Those
Who Fought and Lived It, DeCapo Press, 1957, p. 150.
2. Common Sense, Thomas Paine
3. Common Sense, publisher review, 4. A Loyalist Answers Thomas Paine, M. Christopher New
6. Rebels & Redcoats, p. 150.
7. A Loyalist Answers
8. Thomas Paine and The Age of Reason, Joseph Lewis
9. Rebels & Redcoats, p. 210.
10. The American Crisis, II, Thomas Paine
11. The American Crisis, XIII, Thomas Paine
12. African Slavery in America, Thomas Paine